As I write you this morning, I’m surveying a campus covered by a blanket of snow. Times like these bring out the kid in all of us. The beauty of the snow notwithstanding, I know there are students and staff across campus getting up at this early hour to do the hard work that keeps our college running in any weather. As I’ve said to many a listener over the last three years, the work commitment of our students—combined with excellent academics and extraordinary service—creates a college like no other one in the country. There’s a reason college officials constantly visit us to determine if they can graft a little of the Warren Wilson ethos on to their own colleges. Once here, they often realize our success stems not only from our commitment to the Triad but also from our ability to attract students dedicated to living it daily.
Speaking of work, in early February Dean of Work Ian Robertson and I spent a few days in Washington, D.C., meeting with fellow representatives of the Work Colleges Consortium, composed of seven U.S. colleges. We also made some efforts to retain the funding that the work colleges receive from the federal government to help run our respective work programs. Starting in July, both Ian and I will be assuming a larger role in the Consortium. He will be leading the work directors group, and I will be chairing the presidents group and overseeing the activities of the executive director of the Consortium, who is located at Berea College. Our goals, among others, will be to keep the work model strong and help other colleges and universities learn from the many campus success stories at all the work colleges
This past month also had me meeting with various campus groups about maintaining the strength of one of the other parts of our Triad—Service Learning (SL). I appreciate the many productive conversations that took place, and especially those that were had during a Student Caucus session I attended. As I said in various venues, we must all make sure that Service Learning stays strong and true to the Warren Wilson mission. One specific result of the meetings is that I’ve decided to review the pilot SL administrative structure next spring, after it has been in place for only about six to ten months. In doing so, I’ll involve the Service Learning advisory committee and some other constituencies before recommending to the Board of Trustees how we should proceed. I think it would be best to hear from many voices before a final decision is made. Again, I thank the people and groups who have come forward thus far and look forward to a year ahead during which SL is enhanced—both through its many off-campus projects and through a stronger connection to the academic program. Before leaving this topic, I want to congratulate Franklin Tate and the entire SL staff for a significant recent honor. Because of the fine work of our Service Learning program, the College was named to the 2008 President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll with Distinction.
February also brought the Board of Trustees to campus for its winter meeting, which was an engaging and perhaps even historic one. I say “historic” because our trustees decided to support the recommendation of the President’s Advisory Committee and me to begin the process of developing a new Strategic Plan for Warren Wilson College. An ad hoc group of the trustees has been meeting in the last few weeks to discuss some ideas about process and content, which will be brought back to the full Board at its April meeting or before. Indeed, in the next few days the entire campus community will be asked to respond to some very preliminary language that the ad hoc group has drafted. Plus there will be other opportunities for all stakeholders to participate in the planning process. This strategic planning effort will allow all of us to work with trustees to plan the future of our college. I encourage you to take time to have your voice heard.
Another event last month was the February 22 dedication of the refurbished organ at the chapel, highlighted by a recital given by Steve Williams, one of our faculty members who also serves as organist for the Warren Wilson College Presbyterian Church. We have the entire congregation to thank for its extraordinary generosity in supplying the funds for this grand enhancement to the chapel and church. Also on the renovation front, progress on Bryson continues. Although we’ve had inevitable delays that result from the need to meet so many engineering, construction, and insurance criteria, I’m hoping the result will be a building true to its original character and even more useful to campus. We’ll make sure to have a “reopening” when the project is done.
I’ll close this report by thanking you for your good wishes and prayers during my recent hospitalization. A little over a week ago, I had surgery to remove a subdural hematoma from the surface of my brain. This kind of “brain bruise” is generally caused by a trauma to the head. Though I’m not exactly sure how it happened, the cause was probably my up-close-and-personal meeting with a tree limb on a vacation in mid January. Once the worst symptoms began to show in late February, I had an MRI on February 21 and emergency surgery a few hours later. I feel infinitely better and all symptoms have disappeared. Although I need to be monitored for a few weeks to make sure the bruise is entirely removed, I’m working part time and hope to be back in full swing soon.